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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/V056441/1
Title: Digital Roads
Principal Investigator: Brilakis, Dr I
Other Investigators:
Girolami, Professor M Iida, Professor F Al-Tabbaa, Professor A
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Costain National Highways
Department: Engineering
Organisation: University of Cambridge
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 April 2022 Ends: 31 March 2027 Value (£): 2,780,338
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Artificial Intelligence Ground Engineering
Instrumentation Eng. & Dev. Mobile Computing
Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Transport Systems and Vehicles
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
25 Mar 2021 Prosperity Partnerships Round 4B Full Proposal March 2021 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
This partnership started 10 years ago, when Costain started a collaborative research programme with Highways England and the University of Cambridge that sponsored 27 PhD studentships and led to the establishment of three major efforts: (i) the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction, which grew into the National Research Facility for Infrastructure Sensing to develop new methods for infrastructure data collection and analysis using sensors. Our joint work through this activity has collectively shaped national policy; (ii) the EPSRC Materials for Life project that led to a Programme Grant called Resilient Materials for Life, which led to the first UK demonstration of self-healing structures on the A465 road scheme; and (iii) the two EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training in Future Infrastructure and the Built Environment, which led to Costain acquiring SSL, a data technology company that has accelerated our technology service transformation. All this steered the team to co-create an integrated and focused partnership programme through co-creation workshops, the outcome of which is the proposed Digital Roads partnership.

Digital Roads is inherently a concept for how to disrupt the roads infrastructure sector in its entirety. We envision a future where every road is made of smart materials, has its own digital twin, and can measure and monitor its own performance. This will make roads considerably cheaper, more reliable, and safer. Our ambition is therefore to make roads (i) out of smart materials aware of their state and properties, (ii) documented in Digital Twins and monitored automatically, (iii) maintained proactively, and (iv) able to serve additional functionalities, therefore bringing automation efficiency to the road network.

The Digital Roads concept rethinks roads as an integrated physical and digital product and associated lifecycle processes that continuously interact with each other to ensure efficiency and strong performance in terms of cost, time, quality, safety, sustainability, and resilience. To support this concept, the grant will therefore investigate how digital twins (for the digital product), smart materials (for the physical product), data science (for the digital lifecycle processes), and robotic monitoring (for the physical lifecycle processes) can work together to create a connected physical and digital product and associated processes with a strong focus on the flow of data between them to leverage their complementarity. For instance, starting from the smart materials: we will use graphene infused concrete coatings to enable self-sensing on both the road surface and the median barrier, that informs the road's digital twin through robotic monitoring, who in turn, along with other pre-existing data, informs the data-science enabled digital processes, and back.

This is very timely and necessary, as, after failing to fully leverage technological advances repeatedly over the last 50 years, all the stars are aligned for the road infrastructure industry to leverage advances in information modelling, machine learning, automation and smart materials that now enable the team to have confidence in deliver the Digital Roads vision.

Beyond the partnership, the Digital Roads team aims to develop outcomes by 2030 to a commercial stage and to follow the same development journey for other road assets such as bridges and tunnels - and eventually the entire strategic road network by 2040. This will allow Costain to create a leading digital service to deliver for Highways England who will be able to demonstrate greater value roads and enable other industries to do the same. This will ensure that roads become safer, benefiting us all; serviceable at lower cost reducing the burden on the tax payer; and maintained more efficiently and sustainably to benefit the stakeholders, society and the environment making the UK a global leader in Digital Roads technology.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.cam.ac.uk